Tag Archives: picture book

Steven Seagull: Action Hero by Elys Dolan

I’ve read some fantastic picture books so far this year but the new picture book by Elys Dolan, Steven Seagull: Action Hero, has blown all the others out of the water.

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Steven Seagull: Action Hero is the hilarious story of Steven, a retired cop who comes back to the force for one last case. Someone is stealing the sand from Beach City and it’s up to Steven and his ex-partner, a goldfish called Mac, to catch the thief. They have a list of suspects, including reformed criminals Harry, Lola and Rick. Will they catch the culprit and find out what’s been happening to the missing sand? You don’t want to mess with this seagull.

Steven Seagull: Action Hero is the funniest picture book I’ve ever read.  I’ve been eagerly awaiting this book for months as I’m a huge fan of Elys Dolan’s books.  She creates picture books with so many layers of humour and this book is no exception.  I was laughing the whole time I was reading it and every time I read it again it makes me giggle.  There is no doubt that kids will love Steven Seagull but this is one of those rare picture books that will appeal to adults as much as kids.  I think it’s a book that dads in particular will love, with the references to action movies and action stars like Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude van Damme.

In Elys’s other picture books there have been lots of funny details to find in the illustrations and the pages can be packed with characters.  In Steven Seagull though it’s often the sparse pages that are the funniest.  Take the first two pages for example:

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From Steven Seagull: Action Hero by Elys Dolan, published by Oxford University Press

 

I love the look on Steven’s face as he looks into the distance.  It’s the perfect action hero stare.  He looks tough and afraid of nothing.

I also love the stereotypical action movie details in the illustrations. Steven’s partner Mac has his police badge around his neck the whole time, there are posters up around the place encouraging the animals to ‘Vote Clam’ for mayor, and the end papers of Steven doing karate moves look like a montage of Steven preparing himself for a fight.

I urge everyone to buy a copy of Steven Seagull: Action Hero (or at the very least borrow it constantly from your library) and join the Steven Seagull fan club.  It’s a picture book that I want to share with everyone and I encourage you to share it with everyone too.

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The Little Kiwi’s Matariki by Nikki Slade Robinson

Matariki books for children are always in high demand.  There are only a couple that are suitable for introducing Matariki to preschoolers, while also being a fun story.  Nikki Slade Robinson has just released a wonderful new Matariki book, The Little Kiwi’s Matariki, that is perfect for sharing with our young tamariki.

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In The Little Kiwi’s Matariki, Kiwi wakes up to the moon shining deep into her burrow.  She knows that something is different from other nights and sets off to tell everyone that ‘its coming.’  All of the other creatures tell Kiwi ‘Kao. No, no little Kiwi,’ it’s their tummy rumbling or their singing in their dreams.  They all follow Kiwi though, and when they get to the sea shore they see the light is coming from Matariki.  The book ends with a simple explanation of Matariki that is perfectly aimed at young tamariki.

The Little Kiwi’s Matariki is my new favourite Matariki book.  It’s perfect for introducing our young tamariki to Matariki in a fun way.  It is an ideal book for parents, teachers and librarians who want to share a bilingual book with their tamariki.  Nikki has included some basic te reo, alongside the English equivalent, which is great for those who aren’t confident speakers of te reo. Nikki has also used repeated refrains, like ‘Kao. No, no little Kiwi,’ that tamariki can join in with.

The illustrations are also very appealing to tamariki.  As well as Kiwi, there are lots of other native birds and a spider that tamariki will be familiar with, including Tūī , Ruru and Katipo.  Nikki has given each of them a distinct personality.  I especially love the Ruru’s huge eyes.  One of the other things I love about Nikki’s illustrations is the way that the moon and the stars of Matariki glow on the page.

My favourite aspect of Nikki’s book is the way that the different characters are used to highlight the different aspects of Matariki celebrations.  Tūī, for example, says ‘Matariki? Time for music and dance!’ This fits with Tūī’s personality, so you know that a lot of thought has gone into choosing the right creatures for the story.

If you only buy one Matariki book for your home, school or centre this year make it The Little Kiwi’s Matariki.

 

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Alan’s Big Scary Teeth by Jarvis

Alan’s Big Scary Teeth by Jarvis is one of my current favourite picture books.  It’s all about an alligator called Alan who LOVES scaring all the animals in the jungle.  He makes the ‘frogs leap off their lily pads, the monkeys tumble from the trees and the parrots screech in terrible terror.’  However, he has a rather embarrassing secret (you’ll have to read it to find out what).  One of the animals discovers his secret, which could mean the end of his scaring ways.

This book is utterly fabulous!  Not only is the story hilarious, the illustrations are spectacular too.  I first saw Jarvis’s illustrations last year in Poles Apart by Jeanne Willis and really liked his style.  The colours are bold and the illustrations are nice and big.  The cover is really appealing and promises hilarity inside.  It certainly jumps off the shelf and begs to be read.  The large size of the book makes it perfect for sharing with large groups too.

Alan’s Big Scary Teeth is a must-read picture book and is certain to be one that is read over and over again!

Check out the cool book trailer below:

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The Last Book Before Bedtime by Nicola O’Byrne

I’m a huge fan of Nicola O’Byrne’s books.  Both Open Very Carefully and Use Your Imagination are absolute winners, especially for reading aloud to big groups of kids.  Her illustrations are colourful and full of character and I just love the style of them.  Nicola’s books get better and better, and her latest book from Nosy Crow, The Last Book Before Bedtime just goes to prove this.

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Everyone knows that the very last story before bed is the best story of all. But the problem is, everyone wants to be in that very last story! A familiar fairy tale is turned topsy-turvy when Cinderella hijacks the story of The Three Little Pigs, then Little Red Riding Hood jumps in, adamant that her story is better because it’s full of danger. And then the Big Bad Wolf turns up too! But disaster strikes! Uh-oh! What will they do? The reader is still awake and needs a story! The characters make up their own story, of course, and one with enough funniness, romance, danger AND cake (obviously) to keep everyone happy.

The Last Book Before Bedtime should be called The Perfect Book Before Bedtime because this is the perfect bedtime story.  It’s got characters from lots of different stories that children will know, from The Three Little Pigs to Cinderella. The person reading gets to do all sorts of voices, from pigs to little girls and a wolf.  You can really make the book come alive with all these voices.

As well as the story that is being narrated each of the characters has little speech bubbles that add to the story.  Number 2 Pig is always hungry and looking for food (‘Who cares?! There’s a banquet in this story’), Cinderella is bossy (‘If I can’t be the star of the story, then NOBODY can!), and of course the wolf is always doing bad stuff (‘Ooooh, this is fun! I love a chance to be bad.).  One of the things I love most about Nicola’s books is the interaction between the book, the characters and the reader.  There is plenty of interaction in this book, especially towards the end.

Nicola’s illustrations are wonderful as always.  They are full of fun and silliness, and each of the characters jump off the page.  I love the way that Nicola has given each of the pigs a different personality and how Little Red and Cinderella have some real personality.  I really love the design of the book too, from the cut-out cover to the way that the characters stand out on the page.

If you are looking for the perfect book before bedtime (or to really perform for a group) you can’t go past The Last Book Before Bedtime.  It’s sure to lead you on to many, many more bedtime stories.

 

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My Favourite Christmas Books: Santa’s Beard

One of my favourite Christmas books is Santa’s Beard by Matilda Tristram and Tom Duxbury, and illustrated by Nick Sharratt.  It is the best Christmas story to read aloud and I love sharing it with kids.

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It’s an incredibly silly, laugh-out-loud story about Santa’s beard finding a new face.  Santa is too hot with his beard in the summer sun so his beard decides to find a new face.  Santa’s beard jumps onto a chef, a granny, a baby and many more faces to try and find the right place.  The real fun of this book is that, as you read, you have to move Santa’s beard around and put it on each new face.  The anticipation is wonderful and kids always laugh when they see whose face Santa’s beard has landed on.  The text is simple and fun and Nick Sharratt’s illustrations are delightful as always.

Here is a video from the publisher of Santa’s Beard, Walker Books, of a very funny reading of the book:

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Win a copy of Pukeko Dancing on the Old Dirt Track

Pukeko Dancing on the Old Dirt Track is a wee gem of a book about a Kiwi Christmas.  It follows the Sandersons as they prepare for Christmas and the pukeko family as they prepare for the arrival of their chicks.  You can read my review here on the blog.

Thanks to the author and illustrator Lotte Wotherspoon I have a copy of Pukeko Dancing on the Old Dirt Track to give away.  All you have to do to get in the draw is email bestfriendsrbooks@gmail.com with the subject line ‘Pukeko Dancing,’ along with your name and address.

Competition closes Friday 23 October (NZ only).

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Pukeko Dancing on the Old Dirt Track by Lotte Wotherspoon

When so many of our local Christmas books are just Kiwi versions of Christmas carols or The Night Before Christmas it is really refreshing to read a book about Christmas in New Zealand that is fresh and fun.  Lotte Wotherspoon has just released her new picture book, Pukeko Dancing on the Old Dirt Track, which blends the story of a family Christmas in New Zealand with the story of a Pukeko family.

Pukeko Dancing on the Old Dirt Track follows the Sandersons, a Kiwi family, as they prepare for Christmas.  They chop down a pine for their Christmas tree, decorate it, sing Christmas songs, and wrap presents.  The Pukeko family, Spike and Rose, are also making preparations.  They are gathering materials to build their nest and dreaming of ‘fleet-footed chicks.’  Just as Christmas Day arrives, with presents and yummy food to share, six fluffy chicks hatch out of their eggs and the celebrations kick off.

This is a wee gem of a book.  The story is delightful and the rhyming text bounces along, following the two families as they make their preparations.  Children will love joining in with the refrain that repeats throughout the book, ‘Flip-flap, yikkidy-yak! There’s a pukeko dancing on the old dirt track.’  The main reason I love this book though is because of the gorgeous, quirky illustrations.  The family are all wearing bright clothes and the Pukeko are even wearing little hats. Lotte has given the book a real Kiwi feel with Pohutukawa, toitoi and ferns throughout the book and the Summer activities that the family are all doing.  My favourite page is the very last spread where the Pukekos are having a party.  You can tell that a lot of love has gone into this book, just by looking at the beautiful production of it, from the hard cover and the feel of the pages, to the quality of the illustrations and the wonderful Pohutukawa end papers.  I hope to see more books from Lotte and Clay Press.

We had an event in Christchurch recently called the Pukeko Stomp, which was a walk around the Travis Wetland for pre-schoolers and their families, with stories and snacks.  I shared this book at the event and the children loved it.  It is a great book to read aloud to a group or one-on-one.

Pukeko Dancing on the Old Dirt Track is the perfect New Zealand picture book to share with your family this Christmas or to send overseas to relatives.  You can purchase Pukeko Dancing on the Old Dirt Track from the Clay Press website or at your local bookshop.

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Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – James Foley

 

Bringing My Dead Bunny to life – James Foley

www.jamesfoley.com.au/books/my-dead-bunny

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I have never owned a rabbit, let alone a zombified one, so when I began working on ‘My Dead Bunny’ I had no idea how to approach the character of Bunny Brad. I knew plenty about zombies, having watched all of the Walking Dead and the original Romero film Night of The Living Dead; but I didn’t know how to draw a decent rabbit (or, as this book required, an indecent one).

In addition, I wasn’t sure what illustration style would suit the book; in the first few pages I needed to show a live rabbit being electrocuted, then coming back as a zombie, and I needed to accomplish this without making the audience want to stop reading, close the book, and burn it immediately. As you would expect, it was a challenge bringing a dead bunny to life.

I always start a book by developing the main character. This inevitably involves experimenting with style at the same time. Once the main character design has settled, it informs the style of the whole book; everything else forms around it.

I read the first draft for ‘My Dead Bunny’ and was instantly hooked. Then I was perplexed. How would I draw Bunny Brad? I realised I needed to answer three questions:

  1. How ‘undead’ would he be? (i.e. would Bunny Brad still look relatively alive, or would he look obviously undead?)
  2. How much sentience would he have? (i.e. would Bunny Brad appear to be conscious of his actions and intentionally evil, or would he be acting out of unconscious zombie impulses?)
  3. How real would he look? (i.e. would Bunny Brad have realistic proportions, or would he appear more cartoony?)

I wrote these three questions down in my sketchbook, and tried a few drawings.

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The brain worm was there from the start, as was the idea to have Bunny Brad appear at the narrator’s bedroom door casting a long shadow.  But that’s about all in these sketches that looks familiar.

At this point I realised I needed to look at reference photos of actual rabbits, so that I could clarify what features I needed to include. I soon found another challenge; how could I take a rabbit’s features and zombify them? Rabbits look very alert, anxious and cuddly, whereas zombies need to look slow, dim-witted and creepy. How could I draw a zombified rabbit and still have it seem like a rabbit?

I tried many many options over many many months. Here are some of those designs.

random-sketches

The publishers (god bless them) were very patient and supportive, rejecting options that were too cute and/or not strong enough. After many rejected character designs I was feeling very frustrated, so I sat on my studio floor with a big sheet of paper and a sharpie, and drew some ridiculous zombie rabbits that I thought the publisher would hate. ‘Let’s see what they think of these!’ I thought. I sent the sketches off with a devilish glint in my eye.

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The publisher emailed me back almost immediately. ‘We love them!’ they said. ‘More of these, please!’

I felt surprised, then relieved. The character had finally clicked, and so had the style. Bunny Brad shifted a bit from that sketch to the final version, but he was basically there, and the rest of the book flowed quite easily once he was in place.

LEFT: a colour test version of the rough sketch in the previous image;  RIGHT: final version from the cover of the book

LEFT: a colour test version of the rough sketch in the previous image;
RIGHT: final version from the cover of the book

It’s always the case that I spend at least half of the creative process experimenting and planning. Quite often there’s a point where it seems like it’s never going to work – that the character is never going to settle and the book won’t go anywhere. I’m so glad Bunny Brad eventually turned up! He’s been a heap of fun to work with (if a bit nibbly).

My Dead Bunny by Sigi Cohen and James Foley is available now from Walker Books Australia.  Grab a copy now from your library or bookshop.

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My Dead Bunny by Sigi Cohen and James Foley

So you like picture books about cute bunny rabbits who nibble on carrots or deliver chocolate eggs in a basket?  Well this is definitely not the picture book for you.  However, if you like picture books about gross, stinky, horrible creatures then this book is absolutely perfect for you.  Meet Brad the zombie bunny in Sigi Cohen and James Foley’s new picture book, My Dead Bunny.

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We first meet Brad when he is visiting his owner in bed one night and we’re told of how Brad came to be dead.  Brad was just a normal, cute, fluffy bunny until the day he decided to chew through the TV cord and got electrocuted. The family bury him but the boy misses him and decides to dig him up and check on him.  This is when Brad starts to cause a panic, scaring everyone silly, stinking up the house and making a mess.  The situation gets so bad that the boy and his friends have to come up with a plan to deal with dead Bunny Brad.  Will their plan just cause more problems instead?

I absolutely love this picture book!  It is creepy, disgusting and absolutely hilarious.  It’s completely the opposite of those cutesy picture books about bunny rabbits and it will appeal hugely to boys.  You would have to make sure you knew your audience when reading it aloud, as you wouldn’t want to traumatise a kid whose beloved pet had just died.

Sigi Cohen and James Foley are a dream team for this book. Sigi Cohen’s rollicking rhyming text will have you laughing out loud as you read it.  I love his descriptions of zombie Bunny Brad, which are creepy and funny at the same time.  James Foley’s illustrations are delightfully creepy but hilarious.  James has used a very simple colour palette, mostly black and grey, with green and orange to add effect.  The green of zombie Brad really makes him stand out, compared to his living self which is grey.  James really makes zombie Brad look creepy and disgusting, with his pink, runny eyes, his horrible teeth, and the worm sticking out of his head.  James also uses different angles and shadows to add to the creepiness of the illustrations.  I even love James’ end papers of the book, which show Brad before and after his accident.

My Dead Bunny is a perfect picture book for older readers and younger readers who like a bit of a scare and a good laugh.

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Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – Lesley Gibbes

As part of my Seriously Spooky Month I asked some of my favourite spooky authors to write a guest post for My Best Friends Are Books.  Today I’m joined by Lesley Gibbes, author of the award-winning book, Scary Night.  Lesley joins me on My Best Friends Are Books today to talk about her spooky picture book.

There’s no denying, I love all things scary! When I was a child I loved a good scare and nothing was scarier than the darkness of night. There’s something so deliciously terrifying about noises in the dark made by things you can’t see. My imagination would run wild and I loved it!

So of course, my first picture book just had to be set in the dead of the night when anything can happen. And in SCARY NIGHT when three friends, Hare with a hat, Cat with a cake and Pig with a parcel set out on a mysterious night-time journey all sorts of scary things happen. Close your eyes and imagine snapping crocodiles, roaring bears, mountain cliff tops, graveyards, bats, spiders, castle ruins and rats. Are you brave enough to join the journey and find out just where the three friends are going? Go on, you won’t believe the surprise!

SCARY NIGHT has just the right amount of scare to give your kids a thrill with a reassuring ending that’s sure to have everyone celebrating. It was awarded Honour Book, by the Children’s Book Council of Australia for Early Childhood Book of the Year 2015 and is the perfect book for Halloween this October!

SCARY NIGHT written by Lesley Gibbes, illustrated by Stephen Michael King and published by Working Title Press 2014. CBCA Honour Book 2015 Early Childhood Book of the Year. Shortlisted Speech Pathology Australia, Book of the Year (3-5 years) 2015.  You can visit Lesley Gibbes at www.lesleygibbes.com

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